Chief Justice Roberts’ Remarks About Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart

Stewart argued Vidal v. Elster, the “Trump Too Small” trademark registration case Wednesday; but after his rebuttal, Chief Justice Roberts added:

Thank you, Mr. Stewart. If you’ll linger at the podium just for a moment. Our records reflect that this is your or was your 100th argument before the Court. You are the fourth person to reach this rare milestone this century.

Throughout your career, you have consistently advocated positions on behalf of the United States in an exemplary manner. I recall one case in particular from my days in private practice 23 years ago in which I was counsel for petitioner and you argued in support of respondent.

Now, when the opinion came down, I was just nine votes short of a unanimous result—(Laughter.) for—for my client.

On behalf of the Court, I extend to you our appreciation for your advocacy before the Court and dedicated service as an officer of this Court. We look forward to hearing from you many more times.

I thought this was a nice touch, but I also think it highlighted two important aspects of law being a profession, which are in a sense obvious but sometimes forgotten.

First, the legal professions, like other professions, is a collection of people who particularly appreciate the respect and recognition of their fellows. Giving such respect is pleasant for the recipient, but it is also a reminder to fellow professionals about this human element. The message is, “We are all lawyers; we are all in this process together; we, and the legal system more generally, benefits if we express our respect for each other on occasion.”

Second, the legal profession, like other professions, is a collection of people who are trained in a certain set of skills, and who respect each other in part based on the possession of those skills, even when they are on opposite sides of a dispute. The Chief Justice’s reminiscence in the second half of his comments helps show that; the message is: “I may not agree with your position; I may even be arguing against your position; but I appreciate your professional achievements, and I can acknowledge them and vote against you despite that.”